The Housing Assistance Policy was introduced in August 2018, and included discretionary Disabled Facilities Grants (DFGs) and Private Sector Renewal grants to assist in the reduction of empty homes and improve housing conditions.
It was anticipated that the Lincolnshire Housing Assistance Policy would replace the Discretionary DFG’S element in the future.
Prosperous Communities Committee had requested that a review of the grants be undertaken and reported back to them. The report considered by Members provided information and updates in regards to the grants offered.
The report concluded with a suggested way forward, detailed in Section 5 of the report, which took into account the remaining available funds, the impact of the current grants schemes and objectives of the viable housing solution which was being developed.
Members noted that due to the current Covid-19 pandemic the delivery of all grants had been temporarily suspended, unless there was an immediate high risk of harm that required the works to be completed. Two such DFGs had been completed during this period.
Debate ensued and in response to questions, Officers outlined the difference between the Empty Property Grant and Empty Property Purchase Grant.
In reference to mandatory DFGs an Opposition Councillor expressed disappointment that the lead in time had not been addressed at a county level and considered the District Council should be lobbying harder for change and did not consider the work involved should take that length of time. With regard to the Empty Properties Grant it was suggested that 19 out of 50 was not as successful as it could be and finally the Empty Property purchase grant was considered mathematically difficult to access and it was suggested this was the reason the scheme had not been taken up. Members also sought indication as to what would be the back up position, should the viable housing solution, under consideration, not be taken forward and the grants are withdrawn. Enquiries were also made as to how current staffing resources would be used if the grant work was coming to an end.
In response to the comments around DFG timescales Officers re-iterated comments and the position they had expressed at previous meetings. The average time taken was across all cases, including the most complex. The Authority on receipt of a referral was poised and ready to act. Less complex cases could be dealt with relatively swiftly and Officers indicated they could provide job specific timescales. It was important to strike a balance between getting the job done quickly and addressing the individual’s specific needs and the requirements of OTs. Complex cases could require multiple visits. Whilst acknowledging timescales was a key measure, the delivery of DFGs to vulnerable individuals was not just a paper exercise. The Countywide Framework helped offer consistency across contractors and manage costs ensuring the customer could get the maximum benefit.
Regarding the Empty Property Grants, again, some applicants were in receipt of £20,000 plus and therefore completion could be a lengthy time. It was accepted that the scheme had been slow to take off, but Officers were now confident they had a smooth process by which applicants could apply and monies were being spent. Officers re-affirmed the grant had been welcomed and popular with property owners. Regarding the Empty Property Purchase grant, again Officers had spoken previously with the Ward Members about their concerns regarding accessing the scheme, changes had been made in line with these comments. Whist it was accepted the grant had not proved as popular the reasons for this were disputed.
Finally, Officers outlined how staff resources would be aligned and the work Officers were currently undertaking to ensure that once grant recipients were not required to shield any longer, the work could be resumed at the earliest opportunity.
The Chief Executive confirmed that work was progressing with potential providers for the viable housing solution. The Committee had agreed at a previous meeting to a proposal in principle subject to receiving a detailed business case. All of the concerns raised would be addressed in such a business case and Members would have the opportunity to consider this in detail in a workshop style meeting. Assurance was given that if the business case simply did not stack up then alternative options would need to be investigated and brought back for consideration in due course. The Authority was committed to resolving the empty home issues and developing the community environment within the South West Ward.
It was RESOLVED that: -
(a) the update in regards to delivery and budget spend be noted;
(b) the proposal that the remaining Private Sector Renewal Grants be completed in line with the current policy, after which time this part of the Policy will be no longer available, be supported; and
(c) the proposal that no further applications for the grant be accepted until the existing applications are finalisedbe supported.